Senators on both sides of the aisle on Thursday grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona about the lack of available and affordable rapid COVID-19 testing options, pointing to testing as key to keeping students and staff safe in schools during the pandemic.
“It’s not true that there’s an adequate supply of affordable tests,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee meeting. The cheapest over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests in the U.S. go for $12 for a two-pack, Kaine said.
“In Germany, you can get a rapid COVID test at the grocery store for less than $1,” he said
The Biden administration has said it plans to spend nearly $2 billion on home tests. But experts say the administration’s purchase of 280 million non-laboratory tests won’t be enough to meet testing needs as private employers, K-12 schools and a delta-variant-driven testing surge make it harder to find timely tests.
Becerra said his department was planning to work more closely with industry, state and local partners “to make sure there is always sufficient supply for every state.”
About 96% of school districts are fully re-opened for in-person learning, but a handful are using hybrid or remote models for brief periods to contain outbreaks, Cardona said. Still, nearly 2,200 schools across 539 districts in 43 states have temporarily closed in-person learning because of outbreaks so far this school year, according to Burbio, a New York-based data service that is tracking K-12 school reopening trends.
Becerra encouraged parents to make sure their children follow public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Fifty years ago, some people protested using seat belts. Today, we don’t. We know how safe and effective they are. Same thing with vaccines. Same thing with masks,” Becerra said, adding, “I would just tell each and every parent, please use common sense. Don’t let anyone stop you from protecting your kids.”
Also in the news:
►The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week, a sign that the highly contagious delta variant may be slowing a recovery in the job market.
►United Airlines officials say nearly half the employees facing dismissal for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 have gotten their shots. That cuts the number of airline workers facing termination from 593 to 320.
►A Texas man who was charged $54,000 for his COVID-19 tests at an emergency room says he negotiated it down to about $16,000 and his insurance company paid the full bill.
►The World Health Organization says just 15 of Africa’s 54 countries have reached the global target of fully vaccinating 10% of their population by the end of this month.
►Primetta Giacopini, 105, who was 2 when her mother died of the Spanish flu, has died in California of COVID-19, her daughter Dorene Giacopini said.
►Fewer than half (45%) of Americans trust President Joe Biden to provide accurate information about coronavirus, down from when he took office in January (58%), according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll out this week.
►Zac Brown Band has canceled a planned Thursday show following a positive COVID-19 test for frontman Brown.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 43.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 696,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 233.5 million cases and 4.7 million deaths. More than 184 million Americans – 55% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading: Pregnant people face a “severe risk of severe disease” from COVID-19. But, that’s still not motivating them to get vaccinated. Only about 20% of those who are pregnant have gotten a dose of the vaccine, the CDC says. Read more on this issue.
More than a hundred people came together Wednesday evening in Zanesville, Ohio, to pray a 10-year-old boy will win his battle against COVID-19.
Marcus Gaiters has been hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in Columbus for more than a month, fighting what his doctors describe as the worst case of COVID-19 they’ve seen. Gaiters tested positive for the disease the day after his 10th birthday, his mother told the Zanesville Times Recorder, part of the USA TODAY Network.
“To see this little boy in the condition he is in, all we can ask now is for God to give us a miracle,” said Deb Savage, a long-time family friend. Read more here.
– Chris Crook, Zanesville Times Recorder
U.S. adults with a disability are more likely to want a COVID-19 vaccine compared to adults without a disability but are also more likely to report difficulty getting the shot, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Preventionstudy released Thursday.
Compared to adults without a disability, adults with a disability were more likely to report challenges with getting an appointment online, not knowing where to get vaccinated, and getting to a vaccination site, the study found. The National Immunization Survey Adult COVID Module conducted the interviews by telephone May 30–June 26.
“Reducing barriers to scheduling and making vaccination sites more accessible might improve vaccination coverage among persons with disabilities,” the authors wrote.
Americans are getting vaccinated at the lowest rates yet this year, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows.
The U.S. is giving first-dose COVID-19 vaccinations to fewer than 1.5 million people each week, down from a peak of nearly 14 million in mid-April. It’s also less than half the rate the country was administering during part of August, when people were more worried about surging case counts driven by the delta variant.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released earlier this week found racial disparities in vaccination have closed. But the survery warned “large gaps in vaccine uptake remain by partisanship, education level, age, and health insurance status.”
— Mike Stucka
More than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than eight in 10 of those youths reported using flavored e-cigarettes, according to a new study Thursday from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration.
At a time “when many students were in remote learning environments that might have affected their access to tobacco products,” an estimated 11.3% of high school students and 2.8% of middle school students reported current e-cigarette use, the FDA said in a statement.
The finding was based on the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which was self-administered in various locations because of the pandemic. The CDC said the survey cannot be compared to findings from previous years because, prior to the pandemic, the survey was conducted in person, in the classroom.
“This study shows that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, e-cigarette use among youth remains a serious public health concern,” Karen Hacker, director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a press release. “It’s critical we continue working together to protect young people from the risks associated with tobacco product use, including e-cigarettes.”
More than a year after U.S. health care workers battling in the front lines were saluted as heroes during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are now being issued panic buttons in case of assault and ditching their scrubs before going out in public for fear of harassment.
Across the country, doctors and nurses are dealing with hostility, threats and violence from patients angry over safety rules designed to keep the scourge from spreading.
“A year ago, we’re health care heroes and everybody’s clapping for us,” said Dr. Stu Coffman, a Dallas-based emergency room physician. “And now we’re being, in some areas, harassed and disbelieved and ridiculed for what we’re trying to do, which is just depressing and frustrating.”
Cox Medical Center Branson in Missouri started giving panic buttons to up to 400 nurses and other employees after assaults per year tripled from 2019 to 2020 to 123, a spokeswoman said. One nurse had to get her shoulder X-rayed after an attack. Hospital spokeswoman Brandei Clifton said the pandemic has driven at least some of the increase.
“So many nurses say, ‘It’s just part of the job,'” Clifton said. “It’s not part of the job.”
Here’s a stunner: The pandemic has changed our sex lives, studies show. While some people have reported more sexual activity, many saw a decline. Other studies show a spike in people trying a new experience.
Experts say lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were a time for many to bond with their spouse or partner. But for others, sex was the last thing on their mind as they navigated new health precautions, getting vaccinated and more.
“This pandemic wasn’t experienced the same way by everyone,” said Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and the host of the “Sex and Psychology” podcast. Lockdown restrictions varied, he said, as did the “degree of personal concern people had about COVID.” Read more here.
– Marina Pitofsky
A group representing school board members around the country asked President Joe Biden on Thursday for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
Parents and community members have been disrupting meetings and threatening board members in person, online and through the mail in a trend that merits attention from federal law enforcement agencies, the National School Boards Association said in a letter to Biden.
“Whatever you feel about masks, it should not reach this level of rhetoric,” NSBA Interim Executive Director Chip Slaven
The mother of a 10-year-old Virginia girl who died this week of COVID-19 criticized Suffolk Public Schools for releasing a “sorry excuse of a letter” announcing the death without talking to her or naming her child.
“Her name is Teresa Makenzie Sperry,” Nicole Sperry wrote on Facebook. “My beautiful girl was taken from me because people are too damn selfish to care about what could happen to others.”
Terry died Monday, just days after her symptoms appeared. Sperry wrote that those wishing to honor Teresa should get vaccinated, wear masks and socially distance.
“And most importantly stop complaining and keep your sick kids at home,” Nicole Sperry wrote. “Because in the end you will still get to hug yours.”
The International Olympic Committee has released a first glimpse of the COVID-19 protocols that will be in place at the upcoming 2022 Winter Games in Beijing – including lengthy quarantines for unvaccinated participants, daily COVID-19 testing and the absence of international spectators.
Unlike in Tokyo, where athletes mostly competed behind closed doors, Beijing 2022 organizers said some Chinese fans will be permitted to attend their Games, as long as they follow to-be-determined protocols.
Foreign spectators, including athletes’ family members and friends, will once again be barred from attending. The IOC and International Paralympic Committee said in the news release that they support local organizers’ decision to sell tickets to Chinese residents.
– Tom Schad
Contributing: Associated Press